Generosity in All Things: Lessons Learned at the Start of IMG

Spirit of Water flickr/Dhilung KiratLast year, UUSM began participating in the UUA Pacific Western Region’s (PWR) Institutionalizing a Ministry of Generosity (IMG) program. The program helps promote generosity in all areas of congregational life by planning and implementing a unique roadmap specific to each church. Such areas of congregational life could include, for example, family faith formation, pastoral care, and worship, as well as pledging and stewardship.

To apply to the program, the UUSM Stewardship Committee submitted three questionnaires, which were completed by leaders in our congregation (a former treasurer, a past board president, and a current board member). The questionnaire was designed to assess whether UUSM could improve in areas of trust and generosity and whether UUSM was open and ready to transform internal culture in order to promote generosity. Happily, UUSM was accepted into the program, and the Rev. Greg Ward, Olga Felton, Gretchen Goetz, Sarah Robson, and Kit Shaw were recruited as representatives of UUSM to the IMG program.

On February 15–17, representatives traveled to Arizona for a retreat with nine other UU congregations from the PWR. The retreat was held at The Franciscan Renewal Center (a.k.a. The Casa), a former dude ranch in Scottsdale, purchased and run by the Franciscan friars as a place for wellness, worship, and healing. The venue allowed for a peaceful and contemplative weekend. Other UU congregations participating in the retreat were from California (Fresno, Davis, Palomar, Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo) and Colorado (Boulder, Golden, Lafayette) and encompassed congregations of 90 to 800 members. One of the best things about the retreat was meeting and connecting with members from other UU congregations and sharing notes about congregational life.

Think differently

The program was organized and facilitated by the Rev. Jan Christian and the Rev. Tandi Rogers, who are Congregational Life staff from the PWR. Over the course of the weekend, attendees worked together to learn and understand our current cultures and norms (which may not be serving us well), and to think differently about ways our culture could be changed to promote generosity. For example, some of the characteristics that could be used to describe our current Western-world culture are  perfectionism, individualism, and scarcity. We explored ideas and thought about alternate narratives to shift away from perfectionism to wholeness: for example, from individualism to togetherness; from scarcity to sufficiency. As more specific example, isn’t it a form of generosity to turn to wonder (wholeness) in a situation of disagreement, rather than to immediately assume (perfectionism) that the other view is wrong?

Each retreat attendee received a small reminder of the generosity we experienced in Scottsdale.

Another important lesson learned in the retreat is that generosity is a two-way street. The metaphor that was offered by the Rev. Russ Menk (UU Fellowship of Santa Cruz County) was imagine that giving is like exhaling. One can give (exhale), give (exhale), and give (exhale), but this does us no good if we don’t also receive (inhale). Therefore, we need to be mindful of receiving generosity when it is offered to us, as well as giving generosity ourselves.

At the closing of the retreat, we all participated in worship in the small chapel on the premises. Stories of generosity were read, we participated in a hand-washing ceremony, and we exchanged small gifts of personal meaning, which we were asked to bring from home. We had learned from each other over the course of the weekend and become friends; the ceremony was pure, humbling, and full of grace. It was more poignant because Rev. Jan was retiring; developing the IMG program was her final project. Tears were shed as her colleagues bid her farewell.


Developing the 3-year IMG plan and launching the UUSM spring pledge drive began in February with recruiting and training 35 “Connectors.” These Connectors ventured out and contacted, one-on-one, 140 UUSM pledging households. Church finances were a topic, of course, but the purpose was to come together to share stories of heartbreak and hope in today’s world. In addition to building community, these conversations explored mission and vision and the ways in which our church could bring our values to today’s world and today’s needs. The “Connectees” were also asked to think about someone in their lives who they felt was especially generous, whether in giving of their time, attention, money, or something else. The purpose of these conversations was to begin exploring the theme of generosity, as we launch into our 3-year IMG plan.

Our pledge goal for the “This is What Generosity Looks Like” campaign was $400,000, and pledges that were turned in accounted for $271,890 (68% of goal, as of 4/5/19) from 144 pledging units (57% of total pledging units). Accounting for pledging rollovers (households that did not turn in a pledge card, but have consistently made a financial contribution to UUSM in the past), expected pledge income stands at $356,012.

87 households increased their pledgesAn impressive 85 pledgers increased their annual commitment. Recall that there was a matching program for people who increased their pledges. When they’re fulfilled, this year’s eligible pledges will earn more than $27,000 in matching funds from the Sustainability Fund. Adding those funds in, total pledges stands at $383,292: $16,708 short of our pledge goal. This is the number used to develop the 2019–20 budget to be presented to the congregation at the May Annual Meeting.


What’s next for IMG?

The UUSM IMG team has already met several times to brainstorm a 3-year plan specific to our congregation. As the minister is required to be part of the IMG team, the new (to be named) developmental minister will take Rev. Greg’s place. We are identifying areas of congregational life of focus, then we will develop plans and programs to support and promote generosity in those areas. Our 3-year plan is due to the PWR in May with a followup report due 1 year later. As we continue on this mission, we will continue to exchange ideas and receive support from the other participating UU congregations.

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